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Thursday, April 26, 2007

a nice point

about the Charter of Fundamental Rights in tomorrow's Economist

The extraordinary 12-point questionnaire sent out to EU governments by Ms Merkel in recent days is designed largely to explore possible ways of smuggling a new text past unwitting voters. Suggested tricks include sacrificing high-profile bits that do not matter (an article confirming that the EU anthem is the “Ode to Joy”); and hiding other sensitive bits, for instance the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a sweeping list of social rights, by replacing its full text with “a short cross-reference having the same legal value”. Those with long memories will recall that, when the charter was first proposed in 1999, the politicians argued that making fundamental rights “more visible to the union's citizens” was indispensable to the EU's legitimacy. Now, it seems, it is indispensable for the charter to vanish from sight altogether.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The EU is living in the past

Jose Barroso has been speaking to the IOD this afternoon.

He said that "A successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round could generate more than £100 billion of economic gains annually".

We keep saying that the EU is living in the past, but this is ridiculous. For the record - the Uruguay Round finished in 1994. The Doha round is the one which the EU is currently blocking through its unwillingness to budge on agriculture...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

making the case against democracy

with Andrew Moravcsik:

"Far from demonstrating of the failure and fragility of European integration, the collapse of the constitutional project in fact demonstrates the EU’s stability and success. Contemporary Europe rests on a pragmatically effective, normatively attractive and politically stable “European constitutional settlement,” embodied in the revised Treaties of Rome. This settlement is both popular and broadly consistent with what European citizens say they want the EU to do."

The draft constitution was, above all, an exercise in public relations... The basic idea was to legitimate the EU not, as had been the case since its origin, by facilitating mutually beneficial trade, regulation and economic growth, but instead by politicizing and democratizing it in a way that encouraged a shared sense of citizen engagement in a common project. In debating the “finalité politique” of Europe, it was claimed, citizens would come to understand and appreciate the EU more fully. Sophisticated critics referred to this as redressing the “democratic deficit,” but the immediate policy goal was more concrete: to reverse the sagging popularity of the organization."

So in one paragraph the EU is "popular", and in another the EU's popularity is "sagging". Okaaay...

The effort to generate participation and legitimacy by introducing more populist and deliberative democratic forms was doomed to failure because it runs counter to our consensual social scientific understanding of how advanced democracies actually work. There is simply no empirical reason to believe, as the advocates of constitutional reform clearly believed, that opportunities to participate generate greater participation and deliberation, or that participation and deliberation generate political legitimacy.

I knew we must have been missing something all along! Democracy and participation are the problem!

Maybe we should just ban voting altogether and let "experts" who have agreed a "consensual social scientific understanding of how advanced democracies actually work" run everything. That certainly seems to be the implication.

Forcing participation [ha! - some chance] is likely to be counterproductive, because the popular response is condemned to be ignorant, irrelevant and ideological. Ignorant because individuals have no incentive to generate sufficient information to render concrete interests and political behavior consistent. As we see from the 50-year track record of EU referendums, elections, and conventions, the result is an information-poor, institutionally unstructured, and unstable plebiscitary politics.

Jeez - you let grubby little ordinary people start deciding stuff and where will it end? They might make decisions that are - gulp - ideological. Whatever next?

It should have come as no surprise to constitutional enthusiasts that, from the Laeken Declaration to the failed referenda, the constitutional process so utterly failed to inspire, engage, and educate European publics. Few citizens were aware of the 200 conventionnels’ deliberations, and at the end of the process, few could state what was in the resulting document. Constitutional aspirations and democratic reform seemed to have little effect on public knowledge.

An alternative view is that the failure of the ludicrous Giscard Convention doesn't demonstrate that engagement and democracy are themselves doomed to fail - only that the EU failed to engage and behave democratically. If no-one engaged in the Convention process (not completely true) is that surprising given Giscard’s total contempt for the opinions of anyone outside the Brussels bubble? Even people on the pompously named “praesidium” of the Convention were allowed almost no real input... so what chance ordinary people? This idea is, however, not explored...

Ach - it is very difficult to sum this all up calmly. What we have here is the basic case against democracy, dressed up in the jargon of social science, and aimed at a sympathetic academic audience.

Or maybe that's too harsh. Maybe from a couple of thousands of miles away, it's just easier to miss the reality of this thing: when the EU dumps on developing countries in your name, runs your aid budget badly, costs your country billions a year, and tens of billions more through over-regulation, and when it fails to have its budget signed off for 12 years in a row, and (still!) makes laws in secret, then actually it's kind of irritating? Or maybe that's difficult to see when it doesn't affect you?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Some new red lines

The Sunday Times has a piece setting out the Government's four "Red lines" for the forthcoming negotiations. Needless to say, all of them are already pretty much agreed - so not likely to provoke a massive battle.

* Making it clear that its an "amending treaty" not a "constitution": check
* Getting out the Charter of Fundamental Rights: check
* Remove primacy over national law: check
* Getting rid of single legal personality for the EU: check?

As usual the red lines are all about distracting from what is being given up:

* EU President
* EU Foreign Minister (though they'll change the name)
* Voting changes to pass even more legislation (e.g. in criminal justice, or getting rid of our opt out from the social chapter...)

presentational changes

A letter from Angela Merkel to the other heads of Government seems to be doing the rounds.

The contents rather cut across the Government's line that the new treaty is going to be a completely "different animal" to the old European Constitution. In the letter she asks a series of questions which imply that the discussions are taking place in a spirit of pretty mindblowing cynicism. As far as we can see, the plan is to make as many "presentational changes" as necessary - while keeping the contents the same.

The things that jump out at us are suggestions that: “The consolidated approach of part one of the Constitutional Treaty is preserved with the necessary presentational changes.”

Also the proposal, “To use different terminology without changing the legal substance - for example with regard to the title of the treaty, the denomination of legal acts, and the unions minister of foreign affairs.”

And the plan to “Replace the full text of the Charter of Fundamental Rights by a short cross reference having the same legal value.”

That last one seems unlikely as it would drive the CBI nuts if it happens: remember that the Government promised Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun that the Charter would have “no more legal force than the Sun or the Beano”. It has been gradually gaining legal force through relentless use by the ECJ - but putting it in the treaties would let the judges really go wild...

The whole thing gives an interesting insight into the state of the negotiations - the reference to legal primacy and the symbols of the EU will get the chop, there will be lots of opt-ins to placate various countries, and a renewed reference to the existing Copenhagen criteria as a sop to anti-enlargement types.


1 How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States not to repeal the existing treaties but to return to the classical method of treaty changes while preserving the single legal personality and overcoming the pillar structure of the EU?
2 How do you assess in that case the proposal made by some Member States that the consolidated approach of part 1 of the Constitutional Treaty is preserved, with the necessary presentational changes resulting from the return to the classical method of treaty changes?
3 How do you assess in that case the proposal made by some Member States to use different terminology without changing the legal substance for example with regard to the title of the treaty, the denomination of EU legal acts and the Union’s Minister for Foreign Affairs?
4 How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States to drop the article that refers to the symbols of the EU?
5 How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States to drop the article which states the primacy of EU law?
6 How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States that Member States will replace the full text of the Charter of Fundamental Rights by a short cross reference having the same legal value?
7 Do you agree that the institutional provisions of the Constitutional Treaty form a balanced package that should not be reopened?
8 Are there other elements which in your view constitute indispensable parts of the overall compromise reached at the time?
9 How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States concerning possible improvements/clarifications on issues related to new challenges facing the EU, for instance in the fields of energy/climate change or illegal immigration?
10 How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States to highlight the Copenhagen criteria in the article on enlargement?
11 How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States to address the social dimension of the EU in some way or the other?
12 How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States applying opt-in/out provisions to some of the new policy provisions set out in the Constitutional Treaty?

there was no alternative

There's a complete transcript of Blair's interview last week on European Voice.

Blair argues that the decision to promise a referendum last time was based on what the public "believed" (wrongly) and the fact that "there wasn’t really an alternative". It also seems to have hinged on the use of the word "Constitution." So much for high principle.


…where is the difference between the constitutional treaty and an amending treaty?

I think once you decide that you are going to as it were have one consolidating treaty and then a whole series of things, albeit things that in some ways you can say have their traditions in existing European treaty or in European traditions of one sort or another, I think you are into a different, you know you are arguing about something different for people. I mean I made exactly these arguments myself two or three years ago, but in the end I am afraid you have got to accept people believed that what they were getting was something fundamentally different from a normal conventional treaty, and you know one of the things in politics is you have got to listen to public opinion and I think here, but also elsewhere in Europe, people said well if it is something that you are describing as a constitution for Europe in that sense for the first time, in that way, that is something significantly different for us.



You didn’t have to call a referendum, you did it and that put other leaders under pressure to organise a referenda with the results that we know. Do you regret that?


No, because there wasn’t really an alternative. Because you have to deal in politics with what people perceive and if you say we are getting rid of all the previous treaties, we are now having a treaty that is a constitution, people will look at it differently, and they did.


It also sounds like the UK has been leading on the Poles to kick off about the institutional deal (which basically makes it easier to pass more regulations). But it doesn't sound like Blair is exactly going to support the Poles to the hilt:

Your Polish colleague has suggested that he would count on support from your side for a change in the voting system and for the reduction in the field of qualified majority voting. Would Great Britain support Poland to change the voting system?

Well look all of these issues we have to discuss, although we went through a very complicated process to get to the voting system. That is different from the QMV issue. But rather than as I say negotiate in public, I think the basic principle for me is we have got to accept you won’t get agreement, I don’t think, to a new constitutional treaty, what you can do is get agreement to a conventional amending treaty, a simplified treaty, that gives you the rules that make Europe more effective. Now exactly how that leaves you on voting and all the rest of it, that is a matter to discuss.


There is a nice look at some of the logical
contortions in the interview on the Economist's "Certain ideas of Europe" blog.

In summary, if I have this right, the constitution was good enough that Mr Blair would have been happy with it, but not good enough that anyone was going to vote Yes on it in any future referendum, which is why it was important that no-one else should be allowed to vote on it, or any mini-version of it, and especially important to make that clear before the French people had a chance to vote and elect a president who might be minded to give them a vote on any version of it. And Mr Blair knew he had to do all this, because that is what he heard the people telling him. Oh, to have the hearing of a prime minister.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Blair in Le Monde this morning:

"we must listen to the people"

So why does he say in the same interview that he is ruling out a referendum?

Why does he say in the same interview that he is "not going to negotiate in public?"

Maybe we just haven't understood... Is this some kind of weird French pardoxical thing aimed at Gauloise-smoking, black polo neck wearing, rive auche intellectuel types?

Whatever it is, please stop - you're making our head hurt.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wriggle wriggle

Blair has done an interview for some of the European papers for tomorrow. He argues that if the forthcoming treaty doesn't change the fundamental constitutional basis of the UK's arrangement with the EU, then there isn't a case for a referendum.

This argument is dishonest because Blair and the Government never did accept that the Constitution changed the basis of Britain's relationship with the EU. Their promise of a referendum was never made on the basis that they had accepted that.

At the time Blair said, "There should be a referendum in circumstances in which there is a proposal to alter fundamentally the Government's constitutional arrangements. That is not the case with the European Convention"

As Denis MacShane said at the time: “If, hypothetically, there was such a fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union that a referendum was justified, then you would have to look at it. But there is absolutely no evidence on this.”

The Government didn't concede a referendum in 2004 because it had accepted the principled arguments that were being made in its favour.

It's curious in a way that - instead of a 'wait and see' line, the Government are already moving towards ruling out a referendum: never mind how radical the new treaty is. It seems odd that they are closing off their options so early.

Surely the media will start asking Brown whether he plans to go along with this deeply unpopular plan to take away out right to a vote? Or is the idea to use Blair as some kind of 'sacrificial anode' so that Brown gets less grief later? If so, it doesn't seem likely to work.

Our predictions?

(a) This isn't going to help in the local elections and (b) the Government - and particularly Gordon Brown - is going to spend the next few months dealing with endless questions about what would, or would not, be enough to trigger a referendum. Is this how Brown really wants to start his premiership?

MoD predicts future chaos

The First Post has picked up on a Ministry of Defence Global Strategic Trends paper that looks ahead to 2037.

Their vision apparently includes lawless mega cities, neutron bombs and 'electromagnetic pulse weapons' with the power to destroy enemy communications systems in a potential 'world city'. They also speculate that young Europeans might vote for euthanasia to reduce the costs of ageing populations and that dictators might develop age reversing drugs so they can stay in power for ever. They also suggest that the middle classes might become the new revolutionaries in society taking the place of Marx's proletariat.

The answer to these scary scenarios? Unsurprisingly they suggest more surveillance and greater military force. Worth a read.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Keep on Spinning

­­­Very interesting article in the Times today from arch-Blairite Alan Milburn. He says lots of good stuff that most people who are critical of EU integration would agree with. In particular he calls for powers to be returned to member states and attacks Angela Merkel for wanting to bring back the Constitution - although he does agree that some "piecemeal changes" will be necessary.

This sounds to us like another attempt by the Government and its supporters to distance themselves from the Constitution by attacking it as out of date and unnecessary, while trying to sneak in most of its provisions in a new 'amending treaty' without a referendum...

Any views?

Promotion for Hoon?

According to Ben Brogan, Europe Minister Geoff Hoon is being lined up as a possibile Chief Whip in the almost-inevitable Gordon Brown administration.

Signs of change in Sweden?

The Swedish EU-debate is showing healthy signs of revival. In Saturday’s Expressen, 50 young Swedish representatives of liberal and conservative organisations and political parties criticised their centre-right Government’s “uncritical” position on the EU. In addition to listing several areas of EU-reform, the group called on the Swedish Government to reject the proposed EU Constitution which, they argued, “in several respects resembles a Social Democratic manifesto”.

And yesterday, former Swedish Speaker of Parliament, Social Democrat Björn von Sydow, had an article in Dagens Nyheter arguing that national parliaments need to become ”a more effective counterbalance” to the EU Commission. He suggested a provision in a revised constitutional treaty, whereby one quarter of the bloc’s parliaments acting in unison could veto an initiative from the Commission. “I have myself seen that [parliaments] can work in such a coordinated way”, he said.

Much needed contributions to a debate that for too long has been stuck in a tedious yes-or-no, right-left mode.

Monday, April 16, 2007

They can spin, we will win

Ungh. The spin begins.

At his press conference today with the Dutch PM, Tony Blair started to explain why the Government thinks it can duck out of its promise to hold a referendum on the forthcoming treaty to replace the EU Constitution.

After several months of 'positioning' baloney about how the Government was still "absolutely" committed to a referendum on "the EU Constitution" - although everyone already knew that the new text would definitely not be called a "Constitution" - Tony Blair has finally started to roll out the Government's line that the new "amending treaty" will not require a referendum.

The key difference, and the reason we won't be getting a referendum, Blair said, is that the forthcoming document will simply be "amending" the existing treaties.

I think in the words of the paper that was presented to the Dutch parliament that we should go for an amending treaty, but not a treaty with the characteristics of a constitution, and that is I think an important position and it is one that we would endorse.

But hang on a minute - the EU Constituion was itself "amending" the existing treaties. In fact that was the Government's own argument at the time. As Peter Hain famously explained, three quarters of the text was carried over from previous treaties:

"This is a combination of a tidying up exercise, because more than three quarters of the clauses in the new Constitutional Treaty are just transposed from previous treaties... three quarters of it is tidying up, because the existing clauses in all these many treaties that people find hard to get to grips with and understand, are being transposed in to a single text that is clearer for people" (BBC Politics Show, 18 May 2003).

Nor can it be the name "Constitution": during the row over whether there should be a referendum in 2003/04, the Government always insisted on calling it the "constitutional treaty" or just the "treaty".

So what's the difference? Next came an interesting Jesuitical argument from Blair:

But there is all the difference really in the world between a constitutional treaty that is an attempt to consolidate, to write all the rules of the European Union to give rise to a whole new set of legal principles, and an amending treaty within the tradition of existing European treaties that makes the rules of Europe work more effectively... it is not just about the presentation of this, I think that is clear from both of us. You have to take an in principle decision first of all that it is going to be an amending treaty rather than a constitutional one.

...what we are saying is that the characteristics of a constitution is what has to come out so that what you are left with is a genuine traditional rule-making treaty that allows Europe to work more effectively.

Other than being called "a Constitution", what exactly are the mysterious "characteristics of a Constitution" which are so important here? Blair talked about how the Constitution had given "rise to a whole new set of legal principles". But in fact last time round the Government insisted this was not the case. As Denis MacShane argued:

“If, hypothetically, there was such a fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union that a referendum was justified, then you would have to look at it. But there is absolutely no evidence of this” (BBC World at One, 16 October 2003).

Jack Straw also argued that: "What it won't do is shift the balance of power between member states and the union, except to a degree, back towards member states" (9 September 2003).

Question: Were they wrong then, or wrong now?

And why are we having a new treaty anyway? Ah, of course - the old chestnut: it is "needed to make enlargement work." Blair argued today that:

It is important we go back to the idea of a conventional treaty where the idea is to make Europe more effective, work more effectively because we now have a Europe of 27, and then 28 and so on countries rather than 15.

Never mind that - as the Economist pointed out last week - the EU is actually passing legislation 25% faster since enlargment. As the Charlemagne column pointed out:

If these doom-merchants were right, one would expect to spot a number of obvious things in Brussels. One would be a growing logjam of legislation, concentrated in policy areas that need unanimous agreement by all EU members. It might also be expected that new members would be behind a disproportionate number of these blocked dossiers. Yet the logjam does not exist.

What's so depressing is that Blair has, from time to time, shown signs that he sees what a waste of time this all is. But through weakness of will, and a failure to really intellectually engage, Blair has drifted into doing exactly what he promised he would not:

"What you cannot do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and bring it back with a few amendments and say, Have another go'. You cannot do that" … "If the British people vote no', they vote no'. You can't then start bringing it back until they vote yes"
(Tony Blair, Independent, 23 April 2004).

But according to the PMOS today:

Asked if this meant there would be no referendum on the treaty sought by Mr Blair, the spokesman responded: "In the same way that for the past 50 years other treaties of the kind we are envisaging haven't needed a referendum in this country."

Will Brown learn from Blair's mistakes? Will he really go out and campaign against a referendum duing his first defining weeks in office? Watch this space.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Looking backwards

This is how the staff of the FCO are deployed, from a FOI request last year.

By far the biggest chunk are in the EU Directorate. It dwarfs "Iraq" or "Strategic threats" as a priority.

Probably the most worrying thing is how many people at the FCO are having to spend their time in endless EU meetings (the past) rather than thinking about - say - what to to about rising Asia (the future). We have far more people still watching Brussels than Beijing or New Delhi.


621 EU Directorate
598 UK Visas
296 Americas Directorate
252 Human Resources Directorate
251 UK Trade & Investment (UKTI)
246 Consular Directorate
228 Asia Pacific Directorate
210 Africa Directorate
202 International Security Directorate
190 Middle East North Africa Directorate
175 Central Units
156 Information Directorate
144 Finance Directorate
132 South Asia Group
118 Defence & Strategic Threats Directorate
100 Security Strategy Unit
79 Global Issues Directorate
73 Economic Policy Directorate
70 Iraq Directorate
69 Eastern Directorate
44 IT Strategy Unit
33 Protocol Department
29 Estate Strategy Unit
19 Whitehall Liaison Department
11 Development & Innovation
6 Other policy staff

tomorrow's world

Compare and contrast:

The EU in 2010
by Charles Grant (pub. 2000)

The EU in 2027 by Charles Grant (pub. 2007)

The first time out the UK was going to have joined the euro by 2003. Now it is some time after 2030. I guess Gordon Brown will never be "Mr. Euroland" after all.

The size of the Commission (in the imagined "future") keeps going down too. It was going to have cut its have cut its workforce to 12,000 by 2010. Now it's going to be 8,000 by 2030. In reality we are already creeping up on 60,000 people working directly for the EU, and it's rising fast...

Four links and a question

Beatroot reports that Poland will hold a local referendum on a planned motorway through the Rospuda valley. Interesting row with the EU if they vote for the road.

McCain has signed up a bunch of foreign policy veterans.

The FT seems to have got the message that emissions trading isn't working, and suggest a straight carbon tax.

Canada (or maybe Quebec?) want a free trade deal with the EU.

Why are there still quote marks around 'bombers' in this BBC headline, when they blew themselves up?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

failure, lies and spin

It's tempting to write an intemperate blog about this:

Preliminary figures released yesterday show that the EU's carbon dioxide emissions grew by 1-1.5 per cent in 2006, despite the bloc's rhetoric about the need for reductions. The data so-far released – which covers 93% of installations covered by the EU emissions trading scheme – shows that participants emitted less than their quota of free permits, hence the rise in actual emissions.

According to the Guardian, Stavros Dimas, the EU's Environment Commissioner, told scientists from the UN's intergovernmental panel on climate change yesterday that "Only EU leadership can break this impasse on a global agreement [post-Kyoto] to overcome climate change". The article notes that “What Mr Dimas knew - but did not tell the scientists, apparently - is that the EU's programme for cutting carbon, its two-year-old emissions trading scheme (ETS), remains in disarray.”

The Guardian notes that "Mr Dimas and his officials deliberately released the raw data early - without analysis or interpretation - to avoid last year's debacle, when premature release of national statistics brought a disorderly collapse of the market. This year the full, sifted figures will be released on May 15."

Yes - but that's probably not the only reason they wanted to spike the story...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sarko? Just say no.

More from France's leading economic liberal...

There is another possible policy. That is the policy of reciprocity – our markets are open to those who open theirs, but are closed to those who close theirs. It is the policy of refusing unfair competition, and putting up barriers to monetary, social and ecological dumping. It makes economic sense – it is morally normal that the products which do not respect environmental rules should have compensatory taxes. If a country produces while creating a lot of pollution, while in Europe the rules are strict, it is normal to tax the pollution contained in the imports coming from these countries.

If competition is unfair it is normal to put in place safeguard clauses as a way of putting on pressure in trade negotiation. It is why we absolutely need a Europe with a ‘community preference’.

The others say that agriculture is finished. A European Commissioner even took it upon herself at the beginning of last week to advise farmers to take a second job in order to survive in the future. I’ll say what I think: this declaration is perfectly scandalous. A farmer wants to make a living from his job as a farmer, and Europe needs its agriculture to ensure its food independence. Madame le commissaire would have done better to keep quiet.

Agriculture is the future… If I am elected I will not let the CAP serve as a bargaining chip in the WTO negotiations. The future of the Third World is not in the defeat of the European agricultural market. “


Europe has failed us in the Iran crisis

...says Malcolm Rifkind

In an ideal world quick action by the UN Security Council would have been the way forward. But the Russians and Chinese insisted on a watered-down statement that neither condemned the Iranian action nor called for the immediate release of the prisoners. Tough action through the UN may prove impossible to achieve given the obstacles on the Security Council.

There was, however, one other approach that would have a good chance of succeeding. The members of the EU aspire to having a common foreign policy. What better issue could there be on which our French, German and Italian allies and partners could show solidarity with the UK and demonstrate the benefits of joint action?

The best means of pressure would have been the export credit guarantees that are given to assist trade between Iran and western Europe. These, together with banking and other financial facilities are the soft underbelly of the Iranians and their withdrawal could do significant damage to Iran's already weak economy.

Such measures have already been canvassed by the Americans in respect of Iran's nuclear defiance.

The firm statement made by EU foreign ministers calling for the 'immediate and unconditional' release is welcome. But the apparent lack of any agreement over economic pressure has two serious consequences. First, it makes it very unlikely that Britain will be able to secure the release of the service personnel in the short term. Second, it is now almost inevitable that Iran will try to impose conditions from the international community and, in particular, the US, on their ultimate release.

This lack of agreement shows how hollow are the aspirations to a common European foreign policy. France and Germany should be ashamed at their refusal to assist their European partner in a humanitarian cause of this kind. If there had been a political will, there could already have been agreement.